Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Lag B'Omer

This weekend was another Jewish holiday. It is called Lag B’Omer. Here’s an explanation of why the Jews celebrate it:

According to the Torah (Lev. 23:15), we are obligated to count the days from the second night of Passover to the day before Shavu’ot (in June), seven full weeks. This period is known as the Counting of the Omer. An omer is a unit of measure. On the second day of Passover, in the days of the Temple, an omer of barley was cut down and brought to the Temple as an offering.

Every night, from the second night of Passover to the night before Shavu'ot, we recite a blessing and state the count of the omer in both weeks and days. So on the 16th day, you would say "Today is sixteen days, which is two weeks and two days of the Omer."

The counting is intended to remind us of the link between Passover, which commemorates the Exodus, and Shavu'ot, which commemorates the giving of the Torah. It reminds us that the redemption from slavery was not complete until we received the Torah.

This period is a time of partial mourning, during which weddings, parties, and dinners with dancing are not conducted, in memory of a plague during the lifetime of Rabbi Akiba. Haircuts during this time are also forbidden. The 33rd day of the Omer (the eighteenth of Iyar) is a minor holiday commemorating a break in the plague. The holiday is known as Lag b'Omer. The mourning practices of the omer period are lifted on that date. The word "Lag" is not really a word; it is the number 33 in Hebrew, as if you were to call the Fourth of July "Iv July" (IV being 4 in Roman numerals).

People celebrate this day of joy in the middle of seven weeks of sorrow by having bonfires. Families gather wood, some of them all year long, and take it to a park or hillside or the beach. There, they build fires that can sometimes be really large. In the fire they cook potatoes wrapped in tin foil. I’m not sure what the significance is of this, but Tiffany says it’s the tradition. While the potatoes cook and the fire burns, they have picnics. We joined one of Kip’s coworkers and some of his friends to celebrate and went to a hillside not far from our apartment. The hill was dotted with fires and children were everywhere, dragging wood to their particular locations and playing in the bushes and rocks. William had no interest in stopping our climb where Kip’s group had set up. He charged on up the hill searching for rocks and following whatever other kids he saw. Eventually, he settled on the play area, with a couple of swings, a springy-rooster, and a teeter totter, as his location of choice. Kip and I took turns following him around.

Kip’s coworker and friends set up the fire and then started a couple of mini grills with hotdogs and hamburgers. These were eaten in pita with hummus. That is a really tasty way to eat hotdogs. They had juices and salad, too. We ate well between trips to the play area with William. Eventually, most of the kids in our group and several of their parents ended up on the play area with William. They all loved the teeter totter and William probably spent an hour on it during the course of the evening. It was a fun night.

Friday was another biking day for Kip. After his accident the last time they went out, I was a little nervous to have him go out again. But this time he did just fine. William and I spent the morning playing and watching Thomas (of course). Then, we headed to the gas station to spend our weekly $50 on a tank of gas. From there we went to the grocery store for a big shopping trip. Kip met us there after his bike ride since I had the only key to our apartment with me. (I guess most of the people who rent this place are here on vacation and don’t need separate keys.) We went home, unloaded the groceries, ate lunch and put William down for a nap.

That evening we went to the park with the big play structure by our old hotel. William had a great time running around. He likes to be outside. Then, we headed to a restaurant for dinner. The first place we tried was closed. Shabbat starts at sundown on Friday, so businesses tend to close down early Friday afternoon. Supermarkets and local stores close around 4:00, so if you realize you need something Friday, you have to go get it early or wait until Sunday. The mentality is very different from the States, where even religious people consider Saturday night party time and often stay out way too late being crazy. Maybe the Jews really do have a better understanding of keeping the Sabbath than we do. I mean, if you’re out all night Saturday (or Friday in Israel), you spend half the Sabbath recovering. How righteous is that? But I must admit that I’m not ready to give up that much of my weekend. I really enjoy the relaxed atmosphere of Saturday night in the States. The restaurant that we ate at that night was really very good. And, as usual, they were in no hurry to get rid of us. We could have sat and talked all night. This seems to be the case in most European eating establishments and I think I finally understand why. Unlike in the United States, the wait staff at a European restaurant is under no obligation to refill glasses or act pleasantly toward customers in any way. Also, they are paid more than American wait staffs and generally not tipped as much. This means they don't feel a strong desire to get rid of you and get back to their regular lives. And the restaurants here, even on Sabbath eve when half of them are closed, are never crowded. So why kick out someone who may order more food?

Meanwhile, it’s starting to get hot. It’s in the low 80s regularly and sometimes up closer to 90. It’s a little much for me. I like it cooler than that and our apartment takes a lot of time to cool down at night. Well, it gets cool enough for Kip and William, but my fat belly makes it so I stay uncomfortable a lot longer than they do. At least we come home before the real heat hits!

1 comment:

Janean said...

I watched an Israeli film last Saturday: Walk on Water. Much of it centers around a German touring the country with an Israeli guide. It was really cool to see some of the places you describe. You'll have to rent it when you get back.